WARR contributor Josh Hicks offers his thoughts on the Chicago Bulls and the NBA
The NBA had an intense and eventful Christmas Day, filled to its brim with five games.
Russell Westbrook almost clocked-in another triple-double, showing that he takes no holidays off as the Thunder defeated the young Timberwolves.
The LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant book added another chapter to its high profile history but this time with KD inserting himself in the championship rivalry that has engulfed the NBA for the past two years. Golden State put on a show as the Warriors got their first shot at Cleveland since losing last June’s Game 7, but Kyrie Irving stole the show in shutting down the Dubs in the final seconds, similar to how LeBron put the exclamation point on the last NBA Finals.
The Bulls were in action too, sort of. Inconsistency continued to haunt the team like Scrooge’s Christmas Eve visitors during their 119-100 loss to the Spurs. A Christmas Day “L” stands as the most visible loss for the team as of late, but its not the only one.
Chicago is currently sitting with a 6-9 record in December after edging out Brooklyn Wednesday night behind Jimmy Butler’s 40 point effort and sweet game-winning fall-away. Interestingly enough, a month that started with wins over Cleveland and San Antonio in its first week has reverted to the team needing last-second heroics to survive against the likes of Indiana and the woeful Nets this week.
A lack of defensive identity still tops the list of problems for the Bulls to solve as they also try to figure out who is the third go-to scorer to rely on whenever Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade are struggling from the field.
Recently, Butler has not been shooting his best from the field, especially against the Pacers who saw him shoot only 25 percent on Monday night. Although Butler is the face of this team, he and Wade cannot continue to do everything on their own offensively. The lack of a third go-to option offensively hurts the Bulls often in clutch situations, and as this week has shown there will be no lack of tight games for the Bulls to fight through as this season continues.
The Return of MCW
This week also brought a belated Christmas gift, one day late: the return of Michael Carter-Williams.
Carter-Williams may not an elite player, but he is a player of some skill that fulfills specific needs for the Bulls. With 6 feet 7 inches of height and wingspan, Carter-Williams’ presence is known on the defensive end. By using his quickness, his full-court pressure sets an aggressive tone on defense that the Bulls have been missing in his absence due to injury.
In his return game against the Pacers, Carter-Williams was harassing Jeff Teague and Aaron Brooks and his defensive pressure slowed the quick guards down, making Indy’s offense very hard to run efficiently.
Offensively, he provides experienced ball handling and court vision as a backup point guard, which comes handy when it comes to leading the second unit and relieves pressure off of Wade and Butler in regards to consistently bringing the ball up the court during late game situations. Carter-Williams helps bring life off the bench, sparking the necessary energy the bench was lacking.
Another Christmas gift blossomed throughout this month and that is the improved play of Nikola Mirotic. Although the Bulls have struggled, the rangy shooter from Montenegro has elevated his play tremendously. Throughout the month of December, a more confident Mirotic is consistently shooting 39 percent from the field and averaging a little over nine points a game off the bench, he also knocked in a season-high 22 points Monday against the Pacers.
Carter-Williams’ comeback and Mirotic’s improved performance shows upside is possible regarding solving the consistency issues within the bench crisis for the second unit, but that is just the beginning of the Bulls’ hopeful New Years resolution as they try to make a substantial run for the playoffs.
Joshua M. Hicks is a sports writer and broadcaster and a recent graduate of Roosevelt University, follow him on Twitter @jhicks042